This new Green/Left proposal seems faintly reasonable at first. Is not happiness in some sense the bottom line for all of us? The idea that the government can make us happy is the funny bit. All the government departments I know of are much better at provoking rage!
But, aside from that, an even bigger fly in the proto-Fascist ointment is that happiness is largely dispositional. We are pretty much born with a pre-set level of happiness and departures from it are both rare and temporary. A common clinical observation is proof of that: Even people who have suffered catastrophic injuries -- such as paraplegics -- seem to bounce back to their original level of happiness after a couple of years. Some people (mainly conservatives) are born happy and positive and some others (Leftists) are born miseries and whiners.
And if you think I am just making propaganda in saying that, I'm not. Surveys of various sorts always show that conservatives are happier. Just one small example here, for instance.
And the whole concept of happiness is surprisingly suspect anyway. German and English are closely related languages and yet German just has no word for happiness. The nearest they can come is to say that they are "lucky" (gluecklich).
That was borne home to me forcefully many years ago when I was talking to an old Jewish gent who had escaped Hitler and ended up in Australia. He was glad to be alive but missed the vibrant cultural life he had known in prewar Germany. We spoke in English but he was aware that I knew some German so when I asked him a how he felt about his escape to Australia he replied: "Gluecklich I am but happy I am not".
And I would be surprised if other languages did not have similar difficulties of translation. I say more about the considerable body of happiness research here
Are you happy? Are Canadians happy, or at least happier than the Americans or the French or the Taiwanese? Would you like to be happier?
At the United Nations on Monday, they took a major step toward a global strategy to enhance your happiness status, and the happiness of everybody else in the world. It’s the new role for governments across the planet. If the UN has its way, the state’s major objective will be to boost your sense of well-being and improve how you feel about your life.
It all began in 1972 in the landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan (pop. 700,000) when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that his Buddhist country (GDP per capita US$5,500) would thereafter pursue economic progress guided not by the harsh and dehumanizing concept of Gross National Product, but by the warm and humanistic principles of Gross National Happiness.
Almost 40 years later in New York on Monday, under the auspices of the Kingdom of the United Nations, the high priests of economic interventionism and wealth redistribution moved one step closer to turning Gross National Happiness into a global paradigm.
They issued a report — the World Happiness Report. They staged a conference — Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. And they fashioned a declaration — Realizing a World of Sustainable Well-being and Happiness.
The declaration is in turn intended to become part of “a long-term reference framework” for the coming Rio +20 Earth Summit, a grand replay in June this year of Maurice Strong’s 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
At Rio +20, the UN activists hope to change the direction of world economic policy-making. Production goals and measures based on dollars and yen are out. Happiness measures are in — even though the concepts, happiness and “subjective well-being,” remain vacuous bits of quasi-religious sophistry.
The opening paragraphs of Monday’s World Happiness Report — written by Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute — set out the transcendental mindset required to deal with the mind-blowing idea of Gross National Happiness or its equivalent.
One of the amazing characteristics of the happiness paradigm as described by Mr. Sachs and others is how remarkably similar its conclusions are to the old interventionism and redistribution policies of the traditional left.
It’s as if the high priests of Occupy the Planet and the Green Apocalypse — having run their old socialist and environmental engines into the ground — have stumbled across a new set of rationalizations and slogans.
To no surprise, with 65/309 as a mandate, the Monday meeting in New York produced a radical declaration calling for the overthrow of the “current economic paradigm” to take into account finite global resource limits and the emerging science of well-being and happiness.
What that means, aside from the same old nitty-gritty policies such as more government job creation, is nothing less than a “redesign of the world economy” and the overthrow of existing economic ideas to be replaced by the pursuit of happiness as defined by the United Nations, not by individuals.
Controlling us for our own good
By WALTER E. WILLIAMS
Public misunderstanding, ignorance and possibly contempt for liberty play into the hands of people who want to control our lives. Responses to my recent column "Compliant Americans" brought this home to me. In it, I argued that the anti-tobacco movement became the template and inspiration for other forms of government intrusion, such as bans on restaurants serving foie gras, McDonald's giving Happy Meals with toys and confiscating a child's home-prepared lunch because it didn't meet Department of Agriculture guidelines. A few responses read like this: "Smoking is different because that actually affects other people. We should be living by the notion that you should be able to do whatever you want as long as you don't hurt other people. Smoking hurts other people."
If we banned or restricted all activities that affect, harm or have the possibility of harming other people, it wouldn't be a very nice life.
Let's look at what can affect or harm other people. Non-obese people are harmed by obesity, as they have to pay more for health care, through either higher taxes or higher insurance premiums. That harm could be reduced by a national version of a measure introduced in the Mississippi Legislature in 2008 by state Rep. W.T. Mayhall that in part read, "An act to prohibit certain food establishments from serving food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the state Department of Health." The measure would have revoked licenses of food establishments that violated the provisions of the act. Fortunately, the measure never passed, but there's always a next time.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2010, nearly 33,000 people were killed in auto crashes. That's a lot of harm that could be reduced by lowering the speed limit to 5 or 10 miles an hour. You say, "Williams, that's ridiculous!" What you really mean to say but don't have the courage to is that to save all of those lives by making the speed limit 5 or 10 miles per hour is not worth the inconvenience. Needless to say – or almost so – there are many activities we engage in that either cause harm to others or have the potential for doing so, but we don't ban all of these activities.
One of the least-understood functions of private property rights is that of determining who may harm whom in what ways. In a free society, it is presumed that the air in a person's house, restaurant, hotel, car or place of business is his property. That means that if you own a restaurant and don't want your air polluted by tobacco smoke, it is your right. Most would deem it tyranny if a bunch of smokers had the political power to get the city council to pass an ordinance forcing you to permit smoking. You'd probably deem it more respectful of liberty if those who wanted to smoke sought a restaurant owner who permitted smoking. The identical argument can be made about a restaurant owner who permits smoking in a city where nonsmokers have the political power. The issue is not whether smoking harms others. The issue is the rights associated with property ownership.
The emerging tragedy is our increased willingness to use the coercive powers of government, in the name of health or some other ruse, to forcibly impose our preferences upon others. In the whole scheme of things, the tobacco issue itself is trivial. Far more important is its template for massive government disrespect for private property.
John Adams said, "The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence."
Market Order in War-Torn Iraq
In the course of my deployments to Iraq I learned a great deal about economics, though I didn't realize it at the time. I hadn't yet been introduced to the Austrian School or a Rothbardian view of laissez-faire capitalism. Looking back, however, I can see quite clearly that in several important areas voluntary systems not only existed in that country but thrived.
My first deployment was to Baghdad, that ancient Mesopotamian city positioned on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was there I discovered how, even during the most violent and unstable times, markets can adapt to the needs of consumers and peacefully provide essential services to humanity.
The focus of this article will be on economic provision, rather than the war itself. However, it's important to note that the following free-market solutions have blossomed in spite of being in the heart of a country ravaged by economic sanctions and all but total war. Not only was the US-led war destructive of the physical means to provide such services; it also destroyed the institutions that delivered them, adding to the difficulty in restoring them.
In the United States virtually all utilities are a service provided by government. Whether they are directly controlled by municipal governments or simply regulated to the point of being creatures of those organizations, relatively few cases exist where the market provides utilities unhindered. Baghdad, however, was not so tightly regulated.
Being the capital city, it is home to all of the major government offices and thus has a priority for electrical power; this was true before and after the invasion. However, after a decade of brutal sanctions, followed by a relentless bombing campaign of "shock and awe," the socialized infrastructure was entirely unfit to meet demand. The solution arrived at by the Iraqi people was brilliant.
Taking advantage of economies of scale, residents would pool their resources and either buy a large generator or contract with someone who already owned one. Then a mechanic would be hired to maintain the generator, guarding it against thieves and ensuring it was properly fueled. The more clients a neighborhood had, the lower the consumer cost and higher the profits for the owners.
The one flaw in this system was that fuel was supplied by a centrally planned government agency. As might have been expected, shortages were frequent, leading to power outages. Had fuel been freed from the highly politicized and bureaucratic web of government, there's no doubt an equally innovative and peaceful solution would have arisen to address this need.
Another pocket of freedom that many Iraqis enjoy is in market-based currency, or something similar. After the collapse of Iraq's government, the central bank no longer issued notes for the Iraqi dinar. At this time the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which was the US-lead interim government, began a large-scale influx of the US dollar. Between large shipments of currency from the CPA, and the widespread use of the dollar by hundreds of thousands of troops, its supply quickly increased. And while many thought the result would be large-scale abandonment of the dinar, quite the opposite in fact occurred.
B.K. Marcus describes the result here, wherein the dinar actually increased in value and was in many cases the preferred currency by many in the country. One primary reason seems to be that the value of the dinar remained fairly constant, due to its supply being more stable. But other currencies existed, some fiat-based, others springing from the market.
In another account of the market in Iraq, Edward Gonzales described how in the western region of the country, sheep and bottled water acted as money. Their value floated based on the season and relative quantities of one or the other. While I never witnessed trades made with livestock or other commodities, I did see that not just dinars and dollars were used for exchange.
My second deployment was to the Babel province, south of Baghdad, and the Iranian rial was fairly common there. This was particularly true in the Shia towns and neighborhoods, as might have been expected. I was not familiar with the exchange ratios among the currencies, but all were used in trade. It was not uncommon for a man's wallet to contain two or more of a different states' moneys, even all three at times.
Perhaps the state's longest running and most institutionalized monopoly is that of defense. Advocates of limited government will quickly concede that most services ought to be provided in a free market. This provides incentives for firms to compete for market share, thus raising quality while driving down prices. One service that must be provided by the state, according to everyone from socialists to minarchists, is defense of persons and their property.
Even many who claim to believe steadfastly in free enterprise will concede that defense is the sole purview of government. By doing so they implicitly argue that the same economic laws that govern the provision of trash collection are rendered impotent when applied to defending property. This certainly does not hold water theoretically, nor is it true when applied to the market in Iraq.
In most of the country there were multiple layers of government police and military, and martial law had become the norm. Despite (or perhaps because of) the saturation of the market by government defense monopolists, private services were a valuable commodity. In Baghdad, circa 2005, there were 175,000 US troops engaging various guerilla forces. On top of that, the government's police never bothered with the pretense of scruples and corruption was standard fare. Private security quickly became a profitable enterprise.
It is often suggested by advocates of a free society that, theoretically, defense would be an individual endeavor. So long as individuals are free to own property, goes the argument, they'll be able to arm themselves for protection. This is largely how it played out in Iraq. Each adult male was permitted to own one AK-47 rifle, for personal defense, and gun ownership was nearly ubiquitous. (This allowance was expanded later to allow shotguns for hunting).
As an added layer of protection, many neighborhoods employed night watchmen. These were typically middle-aged men who were contracted by their neighbors to patrol the streets and defend against thieves. Their teenage sons would often assist, and we came to know the groups well. Some took employment in the markets, hired by the business owners to protect commercial interests. Others were posted near residential street corners, keeping a watchful eye on their clients' homes through the night.
These were trusted men in the community, who had found a way to earn a living in a ravaged economy by supplying a highly valued service to their fellow man. They did as good or better a job than we did at securing neighborhoods. Recognizing this, we equipped them with infrared lights, indicating they were friendlies, to help protect them from our helicopter gunships and other units passing through the area at night.
In each of these cases, where proponents of the state argue we must have active government involvement, individuals found voluntary, peaceful solutions to their problems. In spite of the failure by both the Iraqi and US governments to provide essential services, such as adequate electrical power and the defense of property, private solutions quickly sprang up among the violence and disorder. Money too was not something that required a government fiat to make trade possible. The market, unhindered by the state, provided a currency by which individuals could exchange with one another.
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